Lex Neon on Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield, CSN, CSNY, solo, Manassas)

As a teenager, Lex fell head over heels in love with the songwriting and guitar playing of Stephen Stills. The music of Crosby, Stills, Nash, (and sometimes Young), the Buffalo Springfield, Manassas, and Stills’ solo work taught Lex to think outside the area of pop and learn about blues, country, and folk. He discusses Stills, whose birthday is January 3.

Some of my favorites Stills songs? Well, on the Buffalo side of things, how about “Rock and Roll Woman,” “For What It’s Worth,” “Everybody’s Wrong,” and “Sit Down, I Think I Love You” by the Springfield? Stills’ Springfield track “Bluebird” was the inspiration behind Poppermost’s Drop-D acoustic instrumental “Sialia,” named such because in the realm of scientific classification the bluebird is genus Sialia.

When I was a teen, my friend Harriet (at that point my world history teacher) loaned me a few albums from what I called her “archives.” She had been through the 60s and 70s, loved music, and bought albums along the way. She found out that I was a 60s music junkie and fed my soul music of her generation. Among these prized loans were the debut album by CSN, and Super Session: Al Kooper, Michael Bloomfield, and Stephen Stills.

Along with my Buffalo Springfield records, Harriet’s records turned me into a complete Stills nut. I remember being 14 and sitting in my bedroom with Crosby, Stills, and Nash on the turntable. It was great hearing those fabulous honey-hot harmonies bobbing and weaving their way through a whole album’s worth of great material. I’d copy Stills’ guitar lines on my first acoustic, and follow his fluid, bluesy vocals.

Dig “49 Bye Byes” from the wealth of great material from the CSN debut. It’s Stills’ good-byes to Judy Blue Eyes, and he knows that self-preservation dictates putting some distance between himself and Judy. He’s hurtin’ bad. And she’s there, haunting the song while the vocals demand an answer. “Who do you love?”

Judy goes off with Stills’ rival suitor, the Drifter. He sings, “Go, if it means that much to you.” Sure enough, if you love someone you must set them free. But young men in love? We show no emotion, and hide all pain, hurt, and frustration at all costs. Bravado is what we know, and this song captures that for me. I’ve been down that road before.

It was during the making of the debut CSN album that Stills earned the nickname of “Captain Manyhands.” He not only wrote some of the more adventurous tunes on the record, he played guitar, bass, keys, and sang his ass off. Along with drummer Dallas Taylor, Stills literally is “the band” that you hear on that debut album. That really inspired me to learn how to operate as a well-rounded musician.

Along with Cream records, Stills’ solo albums made me a “faux” blues guitarist among my teenage friends who were guitar freaks themselves. Dig “Black Queen” from the first Stills solo album. He hands down blueprints for acoustic blues in a pretty tricky Drop-C mode. “Love the One You’re With” is a pretty good workout for aspiring rhythm guitarists everywhere.

If you aspiring songwriters out there are interested in the art of building a song, check out Stills’ latest release called Just Roll Tape: April 26, 1968. It’s a treasure trove of some classic songs in raw demo form. You hear Stills developing into a master songwriter and guitarist. Equally impressive is Stills’ Springfield demos found in the Buffalo Springfield box set.

Yes, fellow writers. Everyone who writes has to begin somewhere. It’s fascinating to listen to the genesis of such songs as “Helplessly Hoping,” “Wooden Ships,” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” Also among these stark acoustic demos are songs that showed up on Stills’ own solo albums, like “Change Partners” and “Black Queen.”

Listen to it once, and take out you own demos gathering dust in the closet. You may just be surprised! Thanks Stephen, and happy birthday!

(Lex Neon is the musical mastermind behind the music of indie sunshine pop / rock band Poppermost.  For more info, go to http://www.poppermost.com/)

Note: The date listed on the album shown below is for the remastered version. The original was released June 1969.

Currently listening :
Crosby, Stills & Nash
By Stills & Nash Crosby
Release date: 24 January, 2006
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~ by Poppermost on September 6, 2008.

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